image thanks to bruceleedivinewind.com
Want to know the real reason you are overweight and unhealthy? It is because your discipline isn’t up to scratch. It is because you have some depression and can’t find the energy to get to the gym. You see fitness and health starts with the mind. If your mind is off track your body will be too. In this post I want to show you the real way to get lean, fit and healthy. The real way involves some mental exercise.
Why the mind is the foundation of fitness
I want you to follow along with a little exercise here. Think of the last diet that you attempted to do. Was it the South Beach Diet or the Atkins Diet or were you just trying to cut out a particular food? Whatever it was I want you to think of three instances where you didn’t stick to the diet. Of those instances how many of them were because of a mental weakness like an emotional breakdown, laziness or depression?
I’m betting all of them.
You see the mind is the foundation of everything you do in your life. It is like the creator of your universe. Everything you encounter in your world is viewed in your mind. Everything you want to achieve in your life is conceived in your mind. Every excuse you create comes from your mind. It is important to acknowledge this – especially if you want to lose a few pounds.
If you can have a little mastery over your thoughts and emotions you will find dieting and hitting the gym a thousands times easier. Losing weight will be so simple and you will not feel like the gym is a “task” that you “have” to do.
Early morning Kung Fu and my battle with my mind
Ever since I was quite young I have dabbled in Kung Fu. For about six years I took it extremely seriously to the point where I was training four to six hours a day. During these times I would experience a lot of fatigue and have quite a few “mental showdowns” where I would consider chucking it all in and being more normal.
You see Kung Fu is Chinese for “hard work” and it is exactly that. Damn hard work. If you want to get results you need to dedicate a lot of time to the art. I realized this quite early on and so decided to get up at 5am everyday (even during high school exams) and train for two hours. I would then go to school, come home, and resume my training for a further two or three hours. By the time I had eaten dinner and sat down to do my homework I was exhausted. Mentally and physically.
It was during these times of exhaustion that I realized how big a role the mind plays in life. I was this dedicated to fitness and health because of some discipline I had developed in my mind. I was able to push through pain barriers in training because of my mind. And when I had those “mental showdowns” I was lucky enough to see it as just mind’s tricks and move through it.
Kung Fu was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Not because I learned really cool moves that would allow me to rip out your floating ribs before you even saw me coming. No. It was because it is an art that gives equal weight to the body and the mind. It understands that without the two coming together as a team it will be difficult to get past the first few weeks of development.
And this is what you need to learn if you want to lose weight, get fit and get healthy. You cannot really make any long term progress with your body unless you give equal attention to your mind.
How to prepare the mind for your fitness and health journey
There are three important things that you need to do in order to prepare your mind for success. These steps are simple. They do not have to be done before you start either. You can do them as you go along and as you see the mental issues arising.
1. Commit for the long term
The first thing you need to do is commit to getting fit and healthy. Tell your mind that it is going to be a long journey filled with lots of ups and downs. And when these downs come along you do not want to give up. You are going to see them as part of the cycle of ebbs and flows and continue on.
Most people only stick to fitness and health for a very short time because they do not realize that it is a really long term event. They see some gadget on late night television and they think it is going to solve all their problems in a week. And when it fails, they give up. Resolve not to be like this.
2. Learn to meditate while exercising
Learning to do a basic mindfulness meditation is one of the most useful things to know in life. It helps you to see through all of your mind’s bullshit and tricks. It allows you to take control of your destiny and achieve things without creating a myriad of excuses for giving up.
The idea behind this type of meditation is that you become more aware that your thoughts are just thoughts. Nothing more. They have no power over you and if you simply learn to observe them from a neutral point of view they will fade away and let you continue running on the treadmill. Mindfulness meditation will be extremely important when you feel like throwing in the towel and giving up. It is THE only thing that will get you through.
3. Develop some mental toughness
Mental toughness is basically like increasing your ability to deal with pain. When you are on a diet or on a new exercise plan there will be a lot of pain. Sugar cravings, carbohydrate cravings, muscle aches and so on. You need to develop a new level of mental toughness whereby the things that used to bother don’t affect you anymore.
For example, lets pretend you are addicted to coffee. The first thing you do in the morning is make a nice cup of coffee. If you don’t get that morning coffee you tell yourself that you “need” it and you get really grumpy and angry with everyone around you. Mental toughness is all about getting past that whiny stage and realizing that you don’t “need” it. Things are not that bad. When you have mental toughness you can get through anything.
Body and mind working together
One of the first things you will notice when you start eating clean and exercising is that your mind becomes a lot clearer and happier. In this post on beating depression I talked about how exercises is one of the best ways to make yourself feel happy. To me this is one of the most poignant proofs that mind and body and intimately linked.
When you want to get fit and healthy you need to address both the mind and the body but you will also notice that, to some extent, they take care of themselves. Let me give you an example.
I was once talking to an old monk in India who was renowned for being a very good meditator. This monk glowed (quite literally) and looked extremely healthy. When I asked him if he ate a specific diet or did any exercise he told me that his meditation took care of all of that. I asked him to elaborate and he explained that as he started meditating more and more he realized that bad foods were harming his progress. So he quite naturally gave up those bad foods without any cravings or withdrawals. I was impressed.
To me this story illustrates how the mind and body work together but also separately. If you take care of the body the mind will naturally freshen up. If you take care of the mind the body will be easier to deal with. This relationship can be summed up visually with the ancient Yin and Yang symbol you see above.
Actual tips for losing weight and getting fit and healthy
Now that I have told you about the mind’s role in this health stuff I want to give you a few of my best health and fitness tips. These are tips I have developed and discovered over my years as a martial arts practitioner and raving soccer fan.
1. Do high intensity exercise instead of low intensity
High intensity exercise is better than low intensity exercise. Unless you are really overweight, unfit or have a heart condition you should be increasing the intensity of your workouts all the time. You see, the fact of the matter is that high intensity workouts burn more calories and they keep your heart rate elevated even after the workout has stopped. This means you will burn calories all day long – calories that would otherwise be stored as fat.
2. Eat an all natural diet
One of the best things you can do for your health and your waistline is to throw out all of those man made foods. Natural foods are so much better for you and after a few weeks you will notice that fat is burning off of your body quite naturally. Get rid of all those flour and sugar based foods that we rely on so much and replace them with fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and so on.
3. Eat only fruit until midday
All throughout my Kung Fu days I would only eat fruit until midday. This was one of the best things I ever did for my body and mind – fat burned off fast, I had more energy than ever before and my training sessions were more intense. What is really interesting, however, is that I rarely got sick.
Gandhi (and many scientists actually) believed that human beings were meant to eat fruit, not meat. Our eyes can see in color to discern different plants, our hands are meant for plucking and grasping as opposed to slashing and ripping (for flesh) and our intestinal tract is the perfect length for digesting fruit. I suggest that you start thinking of fruit as a whole meal instead of a snack and really increase your dosage.
4. Lift weights
Weight training will help you burn more fat than anything else. Many people think that weight lifting only builds muscle but this simply isn’t true. You cannot build muscle without losing fat. The two do not coexist together. The more muscle you have the less fat you will have.
The best weight lifting you can do is with exercises that utilize a lot of muscles at once. These are called compound exercises. The best ones are:
- the bench press
- the chin up
- the squat
- the deadlift
- the dip
These exercises use a lot of muscles and take a lot of energy to perform. A few weeks at the gym doing just these exercises and your body will be unrecognizable!
A special note for women: do not buy in to the myth that weight lifting will make you look muscly like a man. It won’t. Women simply do not have the testosterone to pack on that kind of muscle. All that will happen is that you will get a firmer body with a lot less fat. Try it out.
5. Sip water throughout the day
Water is a wonderful and very natural way to clean out your insides and keep yourself hydrated. It is also an excellent means of beating hunger pains which would otherwise lead you to snack. It is good to sip water throughout the day instead of drinking it in big chunks because this puts a lot of pressure on your internal organs. Keep a water bottle at your desk and in your car and by the television.
6. Keep mixing it up
Human beings seem to need variety. We don’t like to do the same thing over and over again. And when it comes to fitness it is not necessarily a good idea to do the same thing over and over again. You see the body can adapt to certain workouts and if you keep repeating them you will make little or no progress.
Mix up your routine by trying new things or doing them in a new fashion. You might want to go to a boxing class instead of your normal jog. Or, you might want to lift weights super slowly instead of pumping them out at Rocky’s speed. Mix it up all the time.
I hope this article helps a few of you master your mind in order for you to change your body’s shape and health. If you don’t bring your mind on board it will be extremely difficult to get anywhere with your body. Develop mental toughness, commit to your program for the long haul and learn to see through your mind’s bullshit tricks!